Thou shalt not take stupid penalties

Jets adopt new commandment, vow they will not break it

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — It can’t be an easy task, though others have certainly accomplished it. Yes, the Winnipeg Jets are vowing with monk-like conviction to change their ways, to finish checks, be dogged in their puck pursuit, be beasts to play against and turn the other cheek.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/01/2016 (2524 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — It can’t be an easy task, though others have certainly accomplished it. Yes, the Winnipeg Jets are vowing with monk-like conviction to change their ways, to finish checks, be dogged in their puck pursuit, be beasts to play against and turn the other cheek.

Not surprisingly, that was the message after the team met prior to their morning skate and in the final moments before they stepped onto the ice at the SAP Center against the San Jose Sharks Saturday, what with the wounds still fresh from the 4-2 loss to Arizona pockmarked by two horribly undisciplined penalties. So the Jets’ game plan — at least, until they need another reminder — is to remain true to who they are and how they play and then be respectful of their teammates by not engaging in the stupid stuff, those undisciplined penalties that have consistently robbed them of points this season.

“You have to realize it’s costing us games,” said winger Drew Stafford. “It’s everybody involved. Our (penalty kill) needs to do a better job. But before that, we’ve got to stay out of the box.

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press Files Winnipeg Jets' Chris Thorburn (22) disputes his penalty during third period NHL action against the Detroit Red Wings in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

“The bottom line is we need to make an effort to make sure our focus is there as far as the little penalties, the ticky-tack penalties that end up biting us.

“We’ve talked a lot (Saturday) morning and yesterday about our focus on our discipline and things that we can do to help our cause a little bit. The work ethic’s there, it’s more on the mental side of things in terms of execution and keeping our focus on the big picture — and that’s winning games.

“There’s a lot of little things in these games that have been costing us that are in our control.”

That’s well put.

But if the old Benjamin Franklin saying is true — that it takes many good deeds to build a reputation and only one bad one to lose it — then the opposite also applies. And therein lies the Jets’ current predicament: changing their reputation as a team prone to taking undisciplined penalties — followed by the usual string of expletive-deleteds at the officials — isn’t going to come with the flick of a switch, no matter how much the team vows to change.

The Jets headed into Saturday night’s game as the team with the second-most time in the penalty box at 231 minutes, 47 seconds (Columbus was first at 232:09 and had played two more games). They were first — or worst — in this same category a year ago and ninth in 2013-14.

Clearly this is partly a reputation earned over the last few years, because as recently as 2012-13 — back in the lockout-shortened season — the Jets spent the least amount of time in the penalty box. So, they have flashed this ability to walk away and resist the urge to retaliate before.

“You’ve just got to make a decision as a group. We know that anything after the whistle or behind the play is probably going to get called,” said Mark Stuart prior to Saturday’s game. “We just need to be smart and hold each other accountable for that. It’s taking a punch or taking a stick and just kinda moving away… we know we can’t afford to be in the box as much as we have been.”

Some would call that mental toughness. Jets coach Paul Maurice — who had cooled down considerably since his 82-second post-game rant after Thursday’s loss — called it focusing on staying in the moment and not letting the emotion overwhelm, whether it means getting a stick knocked out of your hands or a glove in the face.

“There’s a battle that goes on all night between players, individual one-on-ones,” said Maurice. “Some get called and some don’t. We’re going to have to take a few hooks and skate through them. And we’re going to have to keep our sticks down, because if they go down we’re getting the call. So… focus, right?

“Controlling that emotion and that energy level is just so important for us right now. The only way to do that is to focus on the end goal and don’t let anything in between remove your focus. Whether you think it’s fair or not, it doesn’t matter.”

What matters, instead, is this: the Jets have a whole lot of work to do just to get closer to the playoff line than the NHL’s basement. Again, though, talk is cheap. Actions — or possibly, inaction when it comes to the undisciplined reactionary penalties — speak louder than words.

“It seems like those things are biting us in the butt this year, but those things can go the other way, right?” said blue-liner Ben Chiarot. “It’s just being smart and knowing when you can take your shots and when you’ve just got to eat them, especially in a tight game. When we’re scratching for points right now it’s about knowing the situation and knowing when you can take your lumps and when you can give them out.

“Every game those things happen. It’s just when it bites you in the butt like it has to us, it’s more obvious. People can talk about it more when a team is struggling, when we’re taking bad penalties like that and it’s costing us games. It’s something we’ve got to change, especially with where we are.”

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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